The Body as Spiritual Guide

EPSON MFP imageby Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    February 8, 2020 

I just returned home from an hour spent in the healing presence of my massage therapist. I realize that this privilege is one that few have the time or means for, but for me, gratefully, this privilege is a prescribed practice in the recovery process that follows two major surgeries. Laying myself down on the massage table is also something of a sacrament, an invitation to presence and truthfulness. Someone trained in deep listening to the body, using the gifts of reverent, healing touch, calls forth the wisdom of muscle and nerve and bone and enters into dialogue with their story, which is my story.Prayer 5 copy

Over the years, I’ve developed my own daily practice of what I call bodyprayer, a way of deep listening and attentiveness to what my body is telling me. My mind can sometimes rationalize how I feel, make light of a stiffness that didn’t exist yesterday, dismiss a sorrow that lingers, or ignore a persistent yearning. In my mind, I can tell myself everything is fine. I can insist I’m over that ache of loss or that nudge of longing that simply won’t leave me alone. Sooner or later, though, all of life’s emotions and experiences express themselves in one way or another in my body. And our bodies are always oriented toward honesty.

So bodyprayer brings our whole self into holy dialogue, into a deep knowing that our flesh is God’s creative expression. We might begin with some gentle stretches early in the day. A thoughtful noticing of where there is alignment. A consciousness of what may be tender or sore. A tending to breath that makes itself heard in a prolonged sigh or a yelp of pain. A listening to the voice of faltering energy, weary muscles, or bruised  bones. A noting of the territory where healing is quietly unfolding.

After this first review, we may sit or stand in silence. We name what we see and feel and where that’s announced in our body. We linger over any part of the landscape where pain or tenderness or tightness expresses itself. Our neck may call attention to our intense immersion in our work and our failure to take a break and stretch. Our shoulders may speak to the reality that we’re carrying the sorrow of another or shouldering the anguish of the world. Our legs, aching or sore, may articulate where we’ve stood in compassion, in commitment, in conviction.

We pray to learn from our body, this container of wisdom, this wonder with all its limitations and its gifts. We utter thanks for the electrical wiring of neurons and the pulsing of blood quietly going about their everyday tasks without a thought from us. We bless the bodies of all those we’ll encounter this day, especially those who carry unrelenting pain, fresh grief, or tender scars. We welcome the body of our Earth with all its beauty and its woundedness. We imagine the sacred expanse of the cosmos and pray to honor our place in it, asking, “What does it mean to fully inhabit our lives? How shall we live so as to hasten the fullness of God’s dream for our world?”

serviceglobeEntering into the day through bodyprayer is one of the ways we can deepen our awareness of Mystery. May we see our bodies as the form designed to carry the presence of the Holy One into our time and place. May this day be one that restores and enlightens and heals both us and all who will enter it.

IMAGES:
Chris Koellhoffer, IHM – I suspect I was engaged in bodyprayer at a very early age but didn’t have a name for it yet!
IHM Communications Office – photo taken on the grounds of the IHM Center, Scranton, PA

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Listen to your body. Just listen.
Where do you hear the voice of fatigue, or sorrow, or pain, or discouragement, or utter joy?
Close with a promise to stay attentive as the day unfolds.
Bow, and give thanks.

NOTE:

Please hold in your prayer a weekend event my IHM Congregation is co-sponsoring  with Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light. Our IHM Center in Scranton, PA is in the heart of what once was the coal mining region of NEPA. So the workshop, “The Long Journey: From Extracting the Past to Cultivating the Future”, is of particular importance to us and to many in our region concerned about climate change and the well-being of Earth, our Common Home. 

Your prayerful support is welcome as is your continuing prayer for this time of my writing and planning future retreat experiences. Thank you. 

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One thought on “The Body as Spiritual Guide”

  1. Chris, in the years since Carolyn went home to Our Lord, I have taken up the spiritual practice of doing morning Body Prayer. I do 15 minutes of TiCh. It helps me stay tuned to the wisdom of God in my body.
    Thanks for this reflection. It encourages me.

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